Mercedes-Benz was one of the first automakers to offer a luxury SUV with the M-Class beginning in the 1998 model year—the GLE-Class is that car's modern equivalent. Midway through the previous generation, a sloping-roof SUV coupe body style joined the lineup.
The GLE-Class got a full redesign for 2020, supplemented by high-performance AMG variants for 2021. The Mercedes competes in the luxury midsize SUV segment it helped popularize over two decades ago, alongside the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, and Genesis GV80.
Within the GLE range is a balanced, well-executed luxury SUV, but tick the wrong boxes on the order sheet, and you'll end up with a poorly finished SUV. To clarify, we would steer clear of the GLE 350. In evaluating the GLE for our 2020 Car of the Year competition, we described the base model's standard suspension as "nearly uncontrollable," "[riding] like a live-axle pickup truck with one flat-spotted tire," and "by far the worst of all vehicles tested, at any price point." Under the hood of this midsize SUV, we also found the base powertrain, a 2.0-liter turbo-four, unimpressive.
Conversely, the GLE 450 is a treat. Its air suspension provides sharp handling and good ride quality, plus impressive performance off-road. As we found driving our long-term GLE, the ute makes for an excellent road-tripper. We praised its silky I-6 engine and quiet, elegant cabin. The MBUX infotainment system is more complicated than we'd like, though, with tricky touchpad controls and features buried behind menus.
Upon testing the GLE 63 S, we were impressed with its V-8 performance, even if it fell behind in our annual comparison of Super SUVs. The Lamborghini Urus is quicker, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a stronger value, and the GLS 63 is a better Mercedes. As a whole, though, the GLE-Class lineup is an impressive collection of luxury SUVs; just avoid that base suspension and engine if you can.
Mercedes-Benz offers no fewer than five powertrain options for the GLE-Class. Regardless of what's under the hood, all models feature a nine-speed automatic transmission. AWD is standard on most models, although the entry-level GLE 350 comes with RWD and optional AWD.
Model: GLE350 / GLE350 4Matic
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I-4
Horsepower: 255 hp
Torque: 273 lb-ft
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19-20/26-27 mpg
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 7.6 seconds
Model: GLE450 4Matic
Engine: 3.0-liter turbo I-6 mild hybrid
Horsepower: 362 hp
Torque: 369 lb-ft
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19/24 mpg
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 5.6 seconds
Model: GLE580 4Matic
Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 mild hybrid
Horsepower: 483 hp
Torque: 516 lb-ft
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 17/21 mpg
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 4.9 seconds (mfr. estimate)
Engine: 3.0-liter turbo I-6 w/ elec. supercharger
Horsepower: 429 hp
Torque: 384 lb-ft
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 18/22 mpg
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 5.2 seconds (mfr. estimate)
Model: GLE63 S
Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 mild hybrid
Horsepower: 603 hp
Torque: 627 lb-ft
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 15/19 mpg
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 3.4 seconds
One little feature buried within the GLE's order sheet has provided us more giggles than we can count. As part of the $8,200 E-Active Body Control package, the GLE-Class gains the ability to bounce up and down on its air suspension like an old-school lowrider. In addition to generating smiles and great social media content, the feature can help off-road by momentarily lightening the load on the wheels and freeing the vehicle from tricky sand.
The GLE-Class is about as safe as they come. In IIHS safety testing, it earns perfect crashworthiness ratings, Good and Acceptable scores for its headlights, and Superior and Basic ratings for the standard front crash prevention system. With the optional system that includes pedestrian detection, the GLE is a 2021 Top Safety Pick+.
Although the GLE is light on standard driver assist tech (only automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring are included), the Driver Assistance Package Plus adds everything you could need. It includes adaptive cruise control, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane centering, lane change assist, and front cross-traffic alert.
Most examples of the GLE are fitted with five-passenger seating across two rows, but an optional third row expands capacity to seven. Those up front get 40.3 inches of legroom, and rear-seat passengers can stretch out in 40.9 inches of space. Although we don't have measurements for the third row, in our First Test, we found that those seats are best suited for small children. Cargo capacity comes in at 33.3 cubic feet behind the second row and 74.9 if you fold down the rear seats.
Regardless of trim, every GLE features Mercedes-Benz's dual-display interior design with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a matching 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and integrated navigation are all standard, though the MBUX digital assistant is a standalone option for 2021. Audiophiles can choose between two Burmester premium audio systems—a 13-speaker setup or a 25-speaker system that includes speakers mounted in the ceiling.